Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given the extensive training that is already carried out over several years, why not end combat duties for our troops now, let the Afghans learn the remaining lessons by experience, and get most of our troops home for Christmas?
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): My right hon. Friend is ignoring the realities of the situation on the ground. UK trainers and mentors have a dual role with Afghan forces. Not only do they enhance the preparedness of those forces, they act as a bridge to enablers such as indirect fire, and helicopter and medical support, which are still necessarily provided by ISAF forces. We have a clear plan to draw down our engagement over two years, and we are steadily withdrawing from combat. To give my right hon. Friend an example, at the beginning of the current six-month tour, we operated 81 separate patrol bases, checkpoints and forward operating bases in Helmand province. That number is now down to 34. We are withdrawing quite quickly from the combat role, but we have a job to do and we will carry on doing it.